Elaine Stritch was quite unique and anyone who sets off to play her must be aware that in doing so, half the battle might be already lost, as they will be unlikely to capture what made her so special. With that said, one has to applaud comedian Jay Malsky for his courage in not only writing a play about Ms. Stritch, but also in putting on a white shirt, white wig and stockings to play her in Elaine Stritch Still Here. Consisting mostly of recreations of iconic Stritch moments from the latter part of her career, the show can’t help but feel rather aimless, as it offers no unifying thread or dramatic arch, instead pleasing itself with allowing Mr. Malsky to do his best Elaine impression.
And the problem is that it’s not a very good impression to begin with, Ms. Stritch herself was aware of how caricaturesque she often seemed, with her trademark monochromatic look, quirky hats and the cranky lady persona she mastered to great effect, she knew that there was no one else out there doing anything like what she did, but she allowed a heartbreaking humanity to come out of that, as she often showed playing Colleen Donaghy on 30 Rock. Mr. Malsky often gets the exterior right, he yells a lot and speak-sings his way through numbers such as “Rose’s Turn” and “The Ladies Who Lunch”, but the performance never goes beyond the surface.
A strange love song to a true legend, Elaine Stritch Still Here lacks the gravitas to be a worthy play, and the camp factor to be appreciated as a fun drag show, mostly because it’s impossible to sit through the show and not to wish to be instead watching the real performances Mr. Malsky is recreating onstage. The actor clearly admires her work and the playwright knows his way through it, but the show’s biggest mistake is that it seems unaware that even though she is no longer alive, Elaine Stritch never truly left, her performances are still throbbing with life and only the push of a button away.